The All-Time Biggest Student Debt Burdens On Record

With student loan debt now topping $1 trillion, it’s clear that student debt is huge, and getting even bigger every year. With some individual student debts topping $200,000, it’s easy to understand how we got to this point. Here, we’ll examine some of the schools with the highest student debt burdens on record, broken into categories to highlight the most expensive college in each particular type of education: medical, law, business, graduate, and undergraduate. Read on to explore some of the craziest student debt burdens in the U.S. and find out what makes them just so expensive.

Medical Schools

Becoming a doctor is hardly cheap, a fact that students at these super-indebted medical schools know firsthand.

  • West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine: Students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine are in more debt than any other medical school in the country with an average indebtedness of $229,132. Plus, it’s the only public school in the top 10 schools that graduate physicians with the most debt. But West Virginia offers something unique: it’s one of few schools to offer the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.
  • University of New England: The University of New England medical school is right on the heels of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with an average indebtedness of $213,088. The University of New England is home to Maine’s only medical school, the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  • Drexel University College of Medicine: Another medical school with incredibly high average indebtedness is Drexel University, at $205,863 per student. Drexel boasts the nation’s largest enrollment for a private medical school, and was the nation’s first medical school for women. The college of medicine also holds the distinction of being the first U.S. college of homeopathy.

Law Schools

Medical school is easily the most expensive kind of student debt you can get into, but law school isn’t far behind, with average indebtedness reaching more than $153,000 at some top schools.

  • California Western School of Law: Annual tuition and fees at the California Western School of Law adds up to $42,600, and students at this law school graduate with average indebtedness of $153,145. Commonly known as the private Cal Western, this is the oldest law school in San Diego. The high price of Cal Western might just be worth it: overall bar exam pass rates in California tend to be between 35% and 55%, but at Cal Western, 78% of first time takers pass. Plus, 82% of grads were employed nine months after graduation.
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law: Following behind California Western School of Law by just over $100, Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s debt load is practically just as high at $153,006. But Thomas Jefferson students enjoy a similarly high bar pass rate as well, with 60% passing the test for the first time. And Thomas Jefferson Grads edge out Cal Western when it comes to employment: 86.4% of grads were employed within nine months.
  • American University (Washington): This private law school is an expensive degree, with the average graduate leaving with about $151,318 in debt. But as is the case with Cal Western and Thomas Jefferson, American University’s expensive price also delivers excellent results. An impressive 84% of first timers pass the bar after attending Washington College of Law.

Business School

A great business school degree can open up many doors, but first, these business schools have students opening their wallets with almost $100,000 in average indebtedness.

  • Duke University: Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business graduates leave school with an average of $96,805 in debt. But for many students, that debt is well worth it, with a history of top 10 rankings for its MBA programs. Fuqua is recognized for its intellectual capital, classroom experience, and exclusivity, and has graduated the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and Melinda Gates.
  • Dartmouth College: A degree from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business is ever so slightly more affordable than Fuqua, with an average indebtedness of $96,346. With this huge debt load comes a rich history, as Tuck is the oldest graduate school of business in the world, and the first institution to offer the MBA. And with the highest percentage of alumni donors of any business school in the world, it’s clear that Tuck graduates have been able to keep up with their heavy debt loads after graduation.
  • Yale University: Graduates of the Yale School of Management will typically graduate with an incredible sum of debt: $93,723. It’s a high figure to leave school with, but Yale graduates have the potential to wipe out their entire debt with their first post-grad annual salary: in Yale’s class of 2001, the mean base salary was $106,157, and the mean signing bonus was $29,276.

Grad Schools

Once you get past the super-expensive medical, law, and business schools, average total indebtedness gets a little less scary, with the most expensive grad school debt loads hovering around $50,000. But we’re certainly not saying it’s cheap!

  • Eastern Nazarene College: Most of the grad students at Eastern Nazarene College borrow to pay for school, 87% of them to be exact. And they’re borrowing quite a bit, with an average of $51,336 per student. With this debt load, Eastern Nazarene College graduates typically go on to do great things, with alumni including American Red Cross CEO Richard Schubert and YMCA CEO Neil Nicoll.
  • Ohio Northern University: Ohio Northern University has a similarly high rate of student borrowing, at 85% of students, who take on an average $48,886 in student debt. We’re willing to bet graduates think it’s worth it, though, with a number two ranking among Midwest colleges in U.S. News and World Report.
  • Holy Names University: At Holy Names University, borrowing is slightly lower at 79%, but not by much, and students still take on nearly $50,000 in debt with an average total indebtedness of $48,833. This private school delivers a good value for the money, though, with small class sizes and a student to faculty ratio of 17:1, with more than 90% of faculty holding the highest degree in their fields. Despite the high cost, Holy Names University has regularly been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “best value” university.

Undergraduate

Expensive grad schools are one thing, but these undergrad schools regularly graduate students with debt loads of about $50,000.

  • La Sierra University: La Sierra University in California undergraduates often leave school with a debt load that rivals that of graduate level education at an average of $54,885. Students at this private college enjoy a strong social responsible education, with the school boasting multiple national and world titles in the Students in Free Enterprise competition.
  • Catawaba College: The bad news is that students at Catawba College often graduate with about $50,193 in debt, but the good news is that with a borrowing rate of just 59%, not as many students have to pay back so much after graduation. Another expensive private school, Catawba College is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and is often recognized in best colleges reviews, including a number 17 ranking in U.S. News and World Report‘s best baccalaureate colleges of the South and consistent recognition as one of the top 10 school theater programs in the nation.
  • Clark Atlanta University: Clark Atlanta University is one of the best historically black colleges and universities, with a debt load to match: students who graduate from this school typically owe $47,066 in student loans. And nearly all students suffer this fate, with a 94% borrowing rate at the school. But even with a high debt load, there’s no denying Clark Atlanta’s value, especially for students who plan to make research a major part of their career: Clark Atlanta is one of only four historically black colleges and universities to earn a Carnegie classification of “Research University – High Research Activity,” and the university receives annual research grants of more than $17 million.